With the growing use of technology in crime solving, forensic nurses have
to know how to properly collect evidence so it can be examined and used in
court. Being an expert witness for the court is just part of the duties of
Caregivers with an interest in detective work and the law could investigate
a career in forensic nursing. Forensic means pertaining to the law.
Forensic nurses provide health care to patients who are likely to enter
the court system. Victims of assault, abuse and neglect quickly learn about
forensic nurses. Forensic nurses may also have suspected criminals and prisoners
These highly trained registered nurses (RNs) usually have experience in
emergency room nursing. They ensure that evidence is collected properly and
can be used in court. Like all RNs, they must teach patients about medical
conditions and give advice and emotional support.
Victims of crime often have medical needs related to the crime. For example,
they might have been assaulted or involved in a car accident, shooting or
Forensic nurses may be the first people victims speak to after an incident.
The nurses must review care and legal options with the patients. The patients
must decide which examinations or medications they want to receive. They also
decide whether they want to report an assault to the police.
Working with patients, forensic nurses conduct interviews, document their
findings, photograph and measure any injuries, and collect evidence such as
clothing, bullets, debris or marks on the body. They make referrals to shelters
and arrange counseling if needed.
Forensic nursing is recognized as a nursing specialty by national nursing
associations. The International Association of Forensic Nurses is the professional
organization for the United States and Canada. This association certifies
RNs as sexual assault nurse examiners. This designation is not required to
treat sexual assault patients. But, it is important because it gives nurses
credibility when they testify in court.
Forensic nurses are employed by health regions, medical examiners' offices
and hospitals. Some are self-employed as consultants. They can work regular
shifts, either part time or full time. Teams, such as the sexual assault team,
and death investigators also have extra "on call" shifts, explains Cathy Carter-Snell.
She is a forensic nurse.
"It's not a nine-to-five job. Usually people come in at strange hours,"
says Daniel Sheridan. He is a forensic nurse in Baltimore, Maryland. He explains
that an on-call schedule is set up. When he's called, night or day, he must
get to the hospital within 30 to 40 minutes.
Other areas of specialization for forensic nurses include domestic violence
nursing, and child and elder abuse and neglect nursing. Other options include
forensic psychiatric nursing, death investigation, corrections (prison) nursing
and disaster nursing.
"We had forensic nurses at the World Trade Center and school shootings,"
Forensic nursing is not for everyone. The nurses have to deal with trauma
and death resulting from abuse, violence, criminal activity and accidents.
Victims are often women and vulnerable people, such as children, the elderly
and people with disabilities.
A person must have the right personality to deal with all that. There are
no physical requirements to become a forensic nurse, says Georgia Pasqualone.
She's a forensic nurse consultant in Winchester, Massachusetts. "It's the
grey matter -- it's your brain," she says.